The Lookout
July 1, 2007
By Alan Dowd 

America, we are told, is divided between red and blue states. The operative word here is divided: Just consider the photo-finish presidential elections in 2000 and 2004, or the 2006 congressional elections, which left the U.S. Senate split 49-49-2.  

Of course, American Christians are spread across the country. We live in deep-red states, true- blue states and in-between states. So perhaps it’s fitting that the color of our Lord—the King of kings—is neither red nor blue, but rather a combination of the two. Purple is, after all, the color of royalty. And as “purple people,” we have a duty to build bridges across the red-blue divide.  

Such a Time

Before we can build those bridges, we need to get past the notion that there is no place for people of faith in the public square. 

Joseph certainly had a role to play in politics. After all, he served as the ancient-day equivalent of chief of staff to pharaoh and ultimately as prime minister of Egypt. “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt,” pharaoh told Joseph. “You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders.” Joseph understood that his unlikely rise to power was all part of God’s plan. 

Moses was called into the public square for a very different purpose, albeit one that Americans can well appreciate: to argue that God’s people had a right to assemble and to worship. Acting as heaven’s ambassador, Moses outlined God’s reasonable demands: “Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert.” We know how pharaoh responded. 

As with Joseph and Moses, Esther would move to the very center of political power in her day. Guided by God, she found her way to the king’s palace, where she served as queen. And from there, she would rescue her people from a holocaust. With words that still pierce our hearts, her uncle finally persuaded her to act: “Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” 

Likewise, David served God and God’s people. Although Jesus had no care for establishing an earthly kingdom—indeed, He told Pilate that His kingdom was in heaven—He didn’t avoid the public square. He interacted with tax collectors and Roman centurions; called on His followers to give to the government nothing less than what belongs to the government (and thus to reserve the rest and best for God); spoke “openly to the world” in the markets and on hillsides; and challenged His disciples to do the same by going into all nations and spreading the Good News. And they did just that: 

-Philip shared the Word with a high government official from Ethiopia.

-Peter befriended a Roman military officer, tearing down cultural walls for both men.

-Paul used his Roman citizenship to open doors for God’s kingdom. In Athens, he went to a pagan city-council meeting to talk about the kingdom. He even shared the Good News with mighty Rome. 

Closer to our own time, we should remember that the ancestors of our Founders were people of intense faith, who came to this continent to practice that faith and build a society shaped by that faith. Since then, faith and people of faith have played an indispensable role in America.   

-Twenty years before the Declaration of Independence, Gen. George Washington had a minister detached to his regiment. Later, he warned that “Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

-Jefferson’s masterpiece document announcing the nation’s birth invokes “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” and claims that all people “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”

-As Alexis de Tocqueville observed in the 1830s, “I do not know whether all Americans have a sincere faith in religion—for who can search the human heart?—but I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions.”

-Decades before the Civil War, people of faith led the way against the scourge of slavery. In fact, it was the Civil War that birthed “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” with its stirring, messianic stanza, “As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.”

-Likewise, people of faith struggled for women’s voting rights, for fair labor standards, for civil rights and equality among all races, and today for unborn life.

This is not to say that people of faith should rely on the government, of course. As the psalmist wrote, “Do not put your trust in princes.”[1] If he were writing today, he probably would have used the word “politicians.” But people of faith do have an important part to play in their government. Church and state coexist in the public square. The danger of one co-opting the other is a subject for another essay, but it doesn’t take a theocrat to recognize the central (and often positive) role faith plays in American life.

Christians are, as Philip Yancey explains in The Jesus I Never Knew, dual citizens. “We live in an external kingdom of family and cities and nationhood,” he observes, “while at the same time belonging to the kingdom of God.”[2] As Paul reminds us, we are Christ’s ambassadors. It’s as though Christ were making His appeal through us.[3] We should not squander this special status. We should make the most of it by building bridges across the red-blue divide—by being purple people. 

Up or Down?
Of course, there are divisions even among Christians in America—enough divisions to make it difficult for us to build those bridges. Yet in the Beatitudes, Christ points a way beyond the divisions, beyond the here-and-now and toward the hereafter: 

-Purple people are poor in spirit. We should not be too proud to help others or accept the help of others, to offer a hand of friendship, to show others in word and deed that we depend on our King.

-Purple people mourn for those broken by a broken world. Like our King, we should have compassion for our neighbors—and actions speak louder than words in this regard.

-Purple people are mighty in their meekness, as Tim Woodruff explains in his book on the Beatitudes, Walk This Way. Being meek has nothing to do with rolling over for the world, but everything to do with “bowing the knee to God.” It is “surrender, abdication and yielded obedience” to our King. It is a recognition that we are not kings, but rather subjects of the King.

-Purple people hunger and thirst for righteousness. That means, in the words of Solomon, we should never withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in our power to act. We should thirst for real justice—God’s justice. “Never look for justice in this world,” as Oswald Chambers once wrote, “but never cease to give it.”

-Purple people show mercy to the wounded and lost. Mercy is to not receive what we do deserve. We know what it means because our King has been so merciful to us. We must share that precious, healing gift with our neighbors. In the same way, we must be like streams of grace for our neighbors. Grace is to receive what we don’t deserve. And our King has showered us with enough grace to share.

-Purple people have pure hearts. We know that our King sees into the heart, where our motives give life to our actions. And we know that motives are weighed by our King. We should test and check our own motives, just as we give our neighbors the benefit of the doubt by measuring their actions against their intentions.

-Purple people are peacemakers. Our King wants us to build bridges and find common ground, to pray for our enemies, to distinguish ourselves from the world not by our occupations or possessions or education or bank accounts, but by our love.

-Purple people must be willing to suffer the consequences of befriending the friendless, of welcoming the alien, of comforting the stranger, of loving the unwanted, of following the King. He never said it would be easy, painless or cost-free. He only said that when we do these things—if we do these things—we will be light for a world darkened by shadows. 

Purple people know that “our citizenship is in heaven,” as Paul writes. As a result, our King is not concerned about right or left on some political spectrum, but rather about right or wrong on His eternal canvas. And what matters to Him should matter to us.  

Whether we live in true-blue states or deep-red states, American Christians should be able to use the Beatitudes to bridge the differences that divide our country. If we can’t do it, then no one can.

[1] Psalm 146.
[2] Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, p.248.
[3] 2 Corinthians 5:20.